The systemic impacts of films: a boy, Forrest Gump, & a global community

The systemic impacts of films: a boy, Forrest Gump, & a global community

By Cesilia Faustina

Photography by Cesilia Faustina

“I think that our context and environment puts constraints in what our minds can fathom; we think that I just need to be this person in this place and do this job or listen to these people because that’s how things are.”

 

Adrian Burell, aims to create change from his platform, Mother of Exiles

An independent filmmaker searches the context of different societies in order to create change.

Adrian Burell is the founder and creator of an online platform, Mother of Exiles – made to distribute content in the form of films that aim to inspire and move its viewers.

“I’m developing my own online platform that is meant to distribute original content in the form of short documentaries, long documentaries, animated series, music videos, photo essays, and things like that,” he said.

He hoped this project will create change and movements in people’s lives – to live life to the fullest despite the challenges.

“So my hope is that we share the perspectives of people from all around the world from marginalized communities that are trying to implement their own innovative solution to a problem that they see,” he said.

“I think that can come in a form of a movement, an invention, or can even just be music; you know, it can be somebody being an artist and just living in a place where the only way of surviving is to be popular.

“In some places you just try to get day to day to day and it’s like that one person or that group of people who decide ‘nah, I’m gonna live, I’m gonna chase this dream in the face of war going on around me or in a face where anything can happen at any moment.’

“To say I’m not going to let that scare me into contemplation, into being in a shell and being afraid of everything.”

Adrian had been traveling for a year trying to create content for his platform visiting around 11 countries in the process.

“I’ve been working for a year now. Made some change accumulating content so that we can launch everything,” he said.

“We’ve been filming in Mississippi, Nicaragua, South Africa, Senegal, Cuba, we’re doing a project here in Jordan, Nigeria, Brazil – roughly around 11 countries I believe.”

 

“I think that one thing that I hope for is that I’ll give the people who watch it – when they’re watching it – it would give them the freedom to dream.”

 

In a society where most people were limited in resources and opportunities, Adrian wished this project would create the motivation people needed.

“I think that one thing that I hope for is that I’ll give the people who watch it – when they’re watching it – it would give them the freedom to dream,” he said.

“I think that our context and environment puts constraints in what our minds can fathom; we think that I just need to be this person in this place and do this job or listen to these people because that’s how things are.

“I think when they see some of these stories and when they see that people all around the world are fighting to live in a place where surviving is foremost and they’re fighting and chasing dreams to make their art – in a place where they don’t have camera, or maybe they don’t have paint, where cops are shooting everyday, or maybe there’s a war going on around them, but they’re still trying to make the world a better place.”

“I don’t know if evil will ever overtake good or good will overtake evil, but that push has to happen,” Adrian explained.

“People have to try because if we don’t try, what are we here for?

“I think in the end, the process of trying to capture these people in these trying actions and these trying moments, there’s art in that, there’s beauty in that, there’s poetry in that.

“If I can convey a quarter of that in a short documentary film to somebody that can sit down and watch on my platform and see this planet and walk off and think a little different, then maybe one day they’ll act a little different.

“I would have helped to plant something that will change their world forever.”

 

“I would have helped to plant something that will change their world forever.”

 

The Beginning

“Growing up it wasn’t abnormal to hear gunshots, to see a dead body on the ground; you know you walk into the middle of a shoot-out and you watch people getting beat or stabbed – it wasn’t abnormal, it was life.”

 

Growing up in Oakland, California was never easy

 

Adrian said the hardships he faced through his years of life made him the way he was.

“For me, I grew up in Oakland, California and I was exposed to a lot of things that kids maybe shouldn’t be exposed to,” he said.

“Growing up it wasn’t abnormal to hear gunshots, to see a dead body on the ground; you know you walk into the middle of a shoot-out and you watch people getting beat or stabbed – it wasn’t abnormal, it was life.”

According to the Gun Violence Archive, thousands of gun violence related incidents occur in the US every year; currently, there are around 9,000 incidents so far this year.

“As I grew older my friends maybe got life in prison, or shot, or killed,” he said.

“I went to their funerals like I saw these things and experienced this world around me, I was thinking in the back of my head, will that be me or will I do more?

“I have been shot at, I was home and somebody tried to take my car and I wouldn’t give it, so they started to shoot into it and my car wouldn’t start and two people were shooting into it and I was crouching down thinking whether I was going to die or not.

“I remember being afraid, I remember feeling ‘yeah, of course, this is happening, this happens to everybody.’

“A lot of people I met keep saying ‘yea I’m going home, I’m going to visit my brother and my cousin and my friends who I went to elementary school with, we’re all going camping,’ it’s like, those people for me are dead – when I go home I’m alone.

“I can’t reach back into my childhood and embrace those people because my generation is gone.

“I think moving forward from that, I don’t want other kids that grew up like me to think that they don’t have the right to dream because of what they’re environment is.

“I don’t want them to be afraid to step out of that comfort zone and I hope, with the stories that we’re telling and the experiences that I have that I can tell and share it and let them know that ‘look, I know you’re up against it and I know you think it’s hopeless, I know you just got into that shootout last night and the people knew where you live and you’re afraid to go outside, that when you’re on your way to school somebody is going to shoot you in the head.’

“I can’t help them with that specific situation, but I can tell them there’s always a way, there’s always a choice to be made, just that choice is never easy, there’s always something that you can do.”

 

“I think moving forward from that, I don’t want other kids that grew up like me to think that they don’t have the right to dream because of what they’re environment is.”

 

Finding inspiration from his favorite movie, that was where his love for filmmaking came from.

“I remember as a kid just watching Forest Gump – it was one of my favourite movies – and I would watch it and one thing I didn’t notice as a kid, but I noticed now was that he wasn’t afraid to try something new and get out of his comfort zone.

“He ran through life how he wanted and experienced it in a special way that was beautiful and it motivated me to want to be the same in a way in some weird subconscious way that I didn’t realise as a child, but I understand now as an adult.

“It also sparked my interest in filming because I would notice that I would watch this film for an hour and I would escape, I was in this magical world that was still dangerous, but it was adventurous and there were strange places and people.

“It sparked my interest to travel the world.”

As Adrian grew up, his childhood gave him the inspiration to want to create the chance for people to dream from film and a shared community.

“Just sit back, think, and usually that difficult choice – that uncomfortable choice, that choice that nobody else will probably do that will take you in a positive direction, is usually the choice that you should make,” Adrian said.

“I don’t suggest that you should run away, running away from your problems is not the answer but honestly, you growing up in some places where everything is trying to poison you and kill you – whether that would be physical, mentally, whatever – sometimes the best thing to do is to get away from the environment and try something new.

“I hope with my project and platform I will have the community involvement that I’m seeking to have because I do go back and I had been involved in a juvenile correction system.

“You know talking back to the kids, I hope that as my platform becomes more sustainable and I can share more resources and information and opportunities with my community – which in my mind is the world – at the same time the heart of it is in Oakland, California.”

 

How to achieve systemic change?

“Whenever I was on the road working, I had a choice: do I go home for funerals or do I keep working for a few months and film my project?”

 

“It started with me asking that question: how do I do something that’s more sustainable and impactful?”

 

Adrian said he would like to build systemic change and not only a one-off effort.

“It started with me asking that question: how do I do something that’s more sustainable and impactful?” he said.

“What would my skill set and the skill set of my team do that really makes that impact that can possibly make that systemic type of change?”

“[My team and I] were doing a project in Brazil and we bought cameras and we were teaching children photography and we self-published our very own book,” Adrian explained.

“We documented that experience and I was ‘you know what, I felt what we did was amazing and it helped the kids we were working with in the time that we were there.’

“They had this experience that they couldn’t forget and I’m sure I planted some seeds but how do we do something that’s more sustainable? How do we do something that will never die?

“We will always need new camera equipment; we go to Brazil and we stay for a month, two months, three months, whatever, but then we leave and the kids are still there and the cameras get old so how do we plant seeds that grow and ideas that don’t die and make a change?

“I think sharing ideas that one day will transform into resources and other types of information, that doesn’t die.

“If you can find a way to share an idea or piece of knowledge with somebody and keep it out there sustainably, then for me as a filmmaker, as an artist, as a photographer, then that’s my medium; that’s my route to making that change.”

The filmmaker said he was truly committed to the project, utilizing all his resources in funding his platform.

“I do have my own production company; so we do music videos, we do weddings, we do commercials, sometimes I even need to do odd jobs to get the cash, but I do what I have to do to get the project funded – no matter what, we’re gonna do it,” he said.

“Whether it was a crew with the best equipment – like we did last year – or me, myself, and I with a backpack and a camera phone and a recorder going out trying to get what I can capture.

“So there’s no choice not to do the project. The project is going to happen, there just might be a few less people or a few more people.”

 

“So there’s no choice not to do the project. The project is going to happen, there just might be a few less people or a few more people.”

 

Adrian explained that the whole journey was not an easy task and that obstacles were in the way from time to time.

“I’m asking my aunts, I’m asking my cousins, I’m Googling, I’m looking up news articles, I’m looking up websites that have different non-profits, I’m reaching out everywhere, I’m saying, ‘hey this is my name, I read this about you, I’m interested in collaborating, are you interested? What would it look like?’ and they respond and we start the conversation.

“Sometimes they say no, sometimes they say yes, other times, I’ve been to a country before and we had this story, we had to embed it out.

“This project is going to happen and when we get there, I get some information that makes it impossible to work with this organisation because of the morality of the people that run it.

“So, I’m in this country and I spent money to get me and my team out here and I have to pivot. Now I have to find a whole other story in one day.

“I’m going to get a story, the project must go on, so that’s what I do, get on Google, you start researching and asking people questions.

“Thankfully, we found a very beautiful organisation and an amazing group of people that are doing amazing work and we documented it.”

The traveler said some moments were harder to face than others.

“The hardest part about doing this project was when we were in South Africa, we were doing a portion of it and my aunt who raised me she got really sick and she died and my brother was murdered a week after she died,” he said.

“These were the two closest people to me on the face of the earth – people you could just sit with and just be quiet and you look at each other and you laugh and you know those people are your comfort zone.

“Everybody else you laugh with, you say hi to, but you have that small group of people who you just love unconditionally and whenever I was on the road working, I had a choice: do I go home for funerals or do I keep working for a few months and film my project?

“I remember I was hiking to the top of this mountain at four in the morning trying to get the sunset in South Africa and I got to the top of the mountain and I was looking out and the lights of the city were now just turning off and thin slices of sun over the horizon of the ocean and table top mountains; I’m just looking at this and I was ‘this is beautiful.’

“Then I got a phone call and it was one of my cousins and he said ‘I just watched him die, he bleed to death’ – he was talking about my brother and I just dropped my phone and I looked out at the sunrise and it was like poetry.

“That was one of the hardest parts about this project, because I didn’t go home, I didn’t go to the funeral, I kept on filming and I went to India and we worked there and I got sick and we slept in an abandoned apartment complex on the floor in the middle of the summer and we did it.

“It’s all about sacrifices for me. How much are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?”

 

“It’s all about sacrifices for me. How much are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?”

 

Though it was not always easy, Adrian was determined to continuously find a solution in facing real-life problems.

“I feel like it’s a waste of energy to complain about mass incarceration, to complain about police killing black people – even though that work needs to be done – agitation needs to happen, protest needs to happen because people need to understand that a large group of people are unhappy with what’s going on,” he said.

“If history was written and there’s no protest then they’ would see all this stuff happen and nobody was mad; no, history was written and they were upset because of this and that.

“For me, that’s not what I’m meant to do, I want to be action-oriented, in pursuing systemic innovative change.

“I may not always be right in doing it, but through that, I will learn a more streamlined way of doing it.

“So I’ll just keep tripping and I’ll just get up, I’m never going to stay down, move forward. Action solution how can I do something.”

 

“I want to be action-oriented, in pursuing systemic innovative change.”

 

About

 

Adrian is a filmmaker from Oakland, California who has his own online platform, Mother of Exiles. Focusing on films, documentaries, animation, and photo essays that represent stories of people that tend to inspire and aim for change. Traveling around the world to gather stories of people from around the world, Adrian aims for a global understanding of society. To show your support, please check out their website here.

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